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Govt to review Data Protection Act

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Amidst concerns that the Data Protection Act will be the death knell of investigative journalism, Government has initiated a review of the act through public consultation. 

Parts of the act, which was assented to in 2011, have sparked public outcry from executives of the Media Association of T&T who said it would affect the ability of the media to function effectively as the fourth estate.

A statement issued by the Ministry of Public Administration and Communications yesterday said it has started stakeholder consultation and a review to improve and clarify the act.

Once the review is done and consultations are complete, Government said, it would make the necessary amendments and return to the Parliament in the shortest possible timeframe.

“This is to ensure that the Act fulfills its intended purpose – to protect privacy and personal information in a responsible fashion and in a manner that does not unduly infringe upon other civil liberties,” the statement said.

The Public Administration and Communications Ministry, charged with responsibility for the operationalisation and administration of the Data Protection Act, agreed that the act needed to be reviewed holistically to harmonise protection of personal privacy with freedom of expression.

Saying the Government understands the competing fundamental rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Constitution as well as freedom of expression, the ministry said, “Notwithstanding the strong public interest in protection of one’s personal and private information, there is an equally strong public interest in facilitating the public’s right to know.”

Last week, attorney Ria Mohammed-Davidson, a lecturer at the University of the West Indies Faculty of Law, said if the act comes into force in its current form, journalists could face jail time and all citizens will be subject to arbitrary searches and seizures.

Saying it will be the death knell of investigative journalism, Mohammed-Davidson said the act criminalises journalists who do not subscribe to a mandatory code of conduct for the unauthorised disclosure of personal information as well as the collection, storage and disposal of personal information. 

The Data Protection Act was assented to on June 22, 2011, and has partially come into force by Legal Notice No 2 of 2012. 


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